July 4 is a beautiful day to be in America. Americans of all stripes gather together with family and friends to celebrate another anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, to enjoy a fireworks show or simply to enjoy each other’s company and bask in the warm summer air.

For me, personally, it is a distinct privilege to be able to celebrate this 4th of July as an ambassador of my country to the U.S. Of course, this year is not the first time people from our two nations have come together to celebrate this holiday of liberty.

Throughout 2017 we have been commemorating the Year of Thaddeus Kosciuszko, a Polish-American Hero and Freedom Fighter who died 200 years ago. I recently learned that General Kosciusko, in addition to being instrumental in the tide-turning Battle of Saratoga and designer of the impregnable fortifications at West Point, was also a specialist in pyrotechnics. In fact Thaddeus Kosciusko was responsible for one of America’s first Fourth of July fireworks displays. Congress requested that he stage an “illumination” to celebrate the end of hostilities of the Revolutionary War on July 4, 1783. Perhaps this is one more reason that Americans should learn how to pronounce Kosciuszko’s name — to thank him for contributing to this fantastic American tradition.

Over a century later, in 1926 Americans celebrated the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. This round anniversary was feted all across the United States, and around the world as well. My country of Poland felt strongly compelled to join in the celebrations. Why? Having been reborn less than a decade earlier, Poland was grateful for its liberty, which it owed in part to America.

From the support of President Woodrow Wilson for Poland’s independence in the 14 Points to the immense American humanitarian aid delivered to the people of Poland following the devastation of World War I, Americans were seen by Poles as great and generous friends. Although an ocean and language barrier separated our two nations, July 4th was declared a national holiday in Poland, and celebrations were held all over the country. What’s more, a special gift was prepared for the American people.

Lacking funds for an expensive or ornate present, the people of Poland gave Americans what they could: their friendship and admiration.

In a matter of a few short months, more than 5.5 million Polish citizens signed special birthday wishes to the American nation on the occasion of the sesquicentennial. From the president and high-ranking government officials to schoolchildren, nearly one-sixth of the Polish population adorned their name to this book of wishes known as the “Polish Declarations of Admiration and Friendship for the United States,” which was later presented to President Calvin Coolidge at the White House.

The reason I write about this unique gift is because after more than 90 years of safekeeping in the Library of Congress, these 111 volumes of signatures are now available to all thanks to a successful digitization project undertaken over the course of the past year. Anyone can now see this document, find ancestors or simply appreciate it for what it is — a magnificent gift from a grateful nation.

Today, Poland once again has much to celebrate on the Fourth of July.

As a proud and active member of NATO, we are grateful to be allied to the most powerful nation in the world, America, a country with which we share a love of liberty. This year especially we are happy to celebrate the Fourth of July with more Americans in Poland than ever before. Thanks to Operation Atlantic Resolve and NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence, Poland hosts thousands of U.S. servicemen and women who are serving shoulder to shoulder with their Polish counterparts, just as over the past years, Polish units served in Iraq and Afghanistan with their American brethren.

So this year, although U.S. military personal deployed to Poland will be celebrating their Independence Day far from their homes and loved ones, I hope the comfort of knowing that they will be surrounded by millions of Polish friends will make that hardship a little easier to bare. Happy Independence Day, America.

Piotr Wilczek is the Polish ambassador to the United States.

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